Policy highlights from Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition

March 03, 2004

Nutrition and Heart Health Expert Endorses New Heart Disease Guidelines for Women

Over 500,000 women die from heart disease a year, by far the leading cause of death of women in the United States. In contrast, 40,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. Nevertheless, when women are asked what they perceive as their most serious health risk they overwhelmingly say breast cancer. In order to raise awareness about heart disease in women and provide specific guidelines on how to reduce that risk, the American Heart Association has released new advice to physicians -- "Evidence-Based Guidelines for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention in Women." Experts say this is an important step forward.

Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, professor at Tufts' Friedman School of Nutrition, and vice-chair of Nutrition for the American Heart Association, feels that women need to understand that heart disease is as significant a problem for them as it is for men. "When women think health risk, they don't think heart disease, they think breast cancer. Although both are important, heart disease will affect a far greater number of women during a lifetime. In addition, there are specific things they can do to reduce their risk, and it is never too late to start."

The new guidelines categorize women into four risk groups that are based on the Framingham Global Risk score, an analysis that classifies people based on their potential to have a cardiovascular event such as stroke or heart attack in the next ten years. The four categories recognize multiple risk factors including current presence of disease, family history and lifestyle factors that include cigarette smoking, diet weight and psychosocial factors such as depression. "The higher a woman's risk, the more aggressive recommendations she and her physician may need to follow," explained Lichtenstein who also holds the Gershoff Chair in Nutrition Science and Policy at the Friedman School.

The new guidelines recommend that all women, in addition to decreasing risk factors such as smoking and managing diabetes, perform 30 minutes per day of physical activity and adopt a heart healthy diet. According to Lichtenstein, "For most women, nutrition and lifestyle modifications can help reduce a women's risk of developing heart disease. Eating less and moving more can go a long way."

This includes eating a diet that includes more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat diary, fish and lean meats and modifying portions to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Additionally, the report recommends that women in the highest risk bracket, who are considered at over 20% risk for having a cardiovascular event in the next 10 years, consult with their physician for additional guidance on beginning drug or nutritional therapy.

Are You Getting What You Pay For When You Buy Dietary Supplements?

As the number of dietary supplements in the marketplace continues to increase, consumers are becoming increasingly confused as to what product they should choose. Does it even contain what the label promises? Currently, dietary supplement manufacturers are not legally required to report "adverse events" to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including injuries or illnesses--that may be related to the use of their products. The FDA monitors supplement safety through such avenues as voluntary adverse event reporting, labeling claims, product literature, and occasional laboratory testing.

According to Friedman School Professor, Robert Russell MD, consumers need to be assured that they are "not getting grass in their pill instead of ginkgo." Russell is the chairman of the Expert Committee on Nutrition and Electrolytes, for the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), an independent, non-governmental organization, which provides standards recognized by federal law for prescription drugs and dietary supplements. As a result of USP's efforts, consumers can now check supplements for certification that they contain the ingredients and doses they claim. If a product has the USP seal of approval, it means that USP has tested and verified ingredients, product and manufacturing process. But the seal of approval will not mean that a supplement works, or even that it's safe. "Quality testing is needed to fill the government's gap," says Dr. Russell, "without it, consumers have no information."
The Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University is the only independent school of nutrition in the United States. The school's eight centers, which focus on questions relating to famine, hunger, poverty, and communications, are renowned for the application of scientific research to national and international policy. For two decades, the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University has studied the relationship between good nutrition and good health in aging populations. Tufts research scientists work with federal agencies to establish the USDA Dietary Guidelines, the Dietary Reference Intakes, and other significant public policies.

Tufts University

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